I knew the General Assembly was debating the bill last year, but missed the August passage of Public Act 099-0402, which amends an important provision of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA).
(5 ILCS 120/3.5)
Sec. 3.5. Public Access Counselor; opinions.
(a) A person who believes that a violation of this Act by a public body has occurred may file a request for review with the Public Access Counselor established in the Office of the Attorney General not later than 60 days after the alleged violation. If facts concerning the violation are not discovered within the 60-day period, but are discovered at a later date,
not exceeding 2 years after the alleged violation, by a person utilizing reasonable diligence, the request for review may be made within 60 days of the discovery of the alleged violation.
(Emphasis in original, to mark the amended language.)
Discovering an OMA violation beyond the old 60-day deadline was a teeth-gnasher, and happened more often than you’d think. This amendment should make a real difference.
Here’s a new state law we can all get behind: Public Act 098-0738, which requires certain disclosures pertaining to city and county audits.
Introduced by Rep. Tom Demmer, the law went into effect this month. Here’s another version with the deets.
Of particular interest to me is the now-required sharing of the auditors’ letters to management that accompany each audit. It was just a couple years ago that a tipster told me there was such a thing. Once aware of their existence, I began making Freedom of Information Act requests for these letters, and boy have they ever been illuminating. Just look at the posts I’ve done:
City of DeKalb Had ‘Excess Expenditures’ of $3.1 Million in FY2013
DeKalb’s Police Department Overspent by $700,000 last fiscal year
The latest management letter, for FY2015, was published with the annual financial report in the December 14 council meeting agenda. Start on p. 19 of the PDF. Notice the addition of the management response to each item of concern, too.
What a difference good transparency laws can make. Hats off to Rep. Demmer.
Hats off to anonymous tipsters, too.
**Update** 1/26. Related: “Sales tax coffers could get boost with new law”. Discusses the Marketplace Fairness Act and its impact (if it ever passes the U.S. House) on state revenues.
**Update** 1 p.m. Related: “Now comes the Internet Sales Consultants”. It provides more food for thought on this scheme, as well as a description of an omission that sounds like a possible violation of the Open Meetings Act.
DeKalb’s city council is considering a new kind of retail revenue source. You should know about it because your tax money is involved.
City leaders are trying to lure Internet retailers with an 85 percent sales-tax rebate.
The first step in the coaxing process came Monday when aldermen unanimously approved an agreement with a shell company called Great Lakes Economic Development LLC.
The company was created by Tom McPeak, a partner with Atlanta-based Barnwell Consulting, who said he has an undisclosed client interested in setting up shop in DeKalb.
McPeak is an acquaintance of Roger Hopkins. Hopkins used to head the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, and after that contracted with the city to provide economic development services for a time. And it looks like he’s done us a solid in facilitating an introduction.
Let’s take a closer look at the potential in this gift. Read the rest of this entry
Turns out, City of DeKalb’s press release this week about hiring outside help has a backstory, and the Daily Chronicle has unearthed it..
New DeKalb City Manager Anne Marie Gaura wants the city to hire an outside financial expert after staff recently broke rules for making purchases in excess of $20,000.
First, the council approved the changes to city hall that included moving the finance office to the first floor and upgrading security. When city staff sought council approval, $14,000 in work had been completed, but the project was slated to cost $36,000. During their last meeting, aldermen approved a $22,864 expenditure for fitness equipment at the police station that had already been purchased using administrative tow funds.
“This just goes to the long history of the organization,” Gaura said. “It wasn’t anything intentional, but it indicated to me we need to improve our purchasing policies.”
Wow, dig it. The new city manager is saying it’s not OK to come to council for authorization to exceed the $20,000 spending authority after the fact. Think about what that might mean for fiscal discipline and accountability in DeKalb if the city manager is a stickler for the rules.
This post updates one from August about Ty Fahner, partner of the law firm Mayer Brown, who told the Chicago Civic Committee the following last spring:
Last March, during a Civic Committee discussion of the state’s public pension problems, Fahner claimed that some members had talked to bond ratings agencies about lowering Illinois’ bond rating to create more pressure for pension reform.
Lowered bond ratings lead to higher borrowing costs, which is bad enough. Worse yet, Mayer Brown was Illinois’ contracted bond counsel for a million a year.
Let’s just say the optics were bad.
And yes, I did write that Mayer Brown “was” the state’s bond counsel. The Quinn administration announced it has selected another firm, Chapman & Cutler, to serve in its place.
Thought you’d like to know that the right thing happened.
(Tip o’ the hat, once again, to Capitol Fax.)
Via The Pantagraph today:
Ward 4 Alderman Judy Stearns on Dec. 6 filed a request for review with the Illinois attorney general’s public access counselor, which has since asked for more information from the city.
She alleged the council during a Nov. 15 closed session discussed issues not exempt from the state’s Open Meetings Act, including broad discussions of general hiring practices, a sought-after “culture change” and “why it is critical that the Council be totally united on the changes to be made, including the comment by our City Manager (David Hales) that a 5 to 4 vote is not acceptable.”
The other side of the story is that there may have been a couple of stray comments about policy in the midst of a discussion of specific employees. Discussion of individuals is an allowed exemption to OMA.
However, Ald. Stearns lists in the Request for Review seven non-exempt topics she says were discussed during the closed session. Stearns said she eventually left the closed session due to the non-exempt topics and that she has since consulted the Citizen Advocacy Center.
The required recording of the closed session will tell the tale to the PAC.
Don’t hold your breath for results, though. I’ve been waiting for an opinion on an OMA complaint for almost a year.
The plaintiff in a federal free-speech case with implications for local government meetings finally has a court date: October 21. From the Rock River Times:
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Rockford resident and former Winnebago County Board chairman candidate Michael Castronovo, alleges multiple violations of his free-speech rights at Winnebago County Board meetings and at Public Works committee meetings.
Some of these alleged violations may be related to the December 2008 change made to county ordinance 2-65 where “zoning items, personnel matters, or any pending or threatened litigation involving the County” became restricted topics for citizens at county board meetings.
Though it hasn’t yet gone to trial, the case has survived several pre-trial hearings. During one of the hearings, the presiding judge confirmed that all government meetings — even committee meetings — must include public comment sessions per the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
The lawsuit itself, however, alleges Constitutional violations of the First Amendment; specifically, prohibitions on the content of public comment.
Talk of a possible teachers’ strike last month was tense and emotional for a lot of us. When the school board and the teachers’ union came together at nearly the last minute, I felt relieved and psychologically moved past it right away.
But that was wrong.
What I should have done, and will do now, is to recognize that District 428 put out a bunch of information about the negotiations at its website. At first they posted the final offers from each side. Then they added a document clarifying the sticking points between the two groups, and others that compared District 428 work hours and pay to other districts in the area. Anyone who cared to read them was totally in the loop.
The district also front-paged a link to all these documents for easy access.
Well done, District 428.
They are doing it by filing a lawsuit to let a judge decide. From the Journal-Standard:
Freeport Township now looks to the court system to see if last year’s joint purchase of the property at 206 E. Stephenson St. with the Veterans Assistance Commission [of Stephenson County] was legal.
“An opinion by attorney Greg Pelini says that a township can co-own a building with a municipality,” said Mike Phillips, attorney for the Freeport Township. “The VAC[SC] is not a municipality and according to the opinion we are not authorized to co-own a building with them. We have no authority to do it.”
The pending lawsuit includes the VAC[SC], Security First Title Company and local businessman Dave Fonda as defendants. The township and VAC[SC] jointly bought the property that they currently share from Fonda for $366,971 and moved there in January.
The basis for the lawsuit is three counts, according to the article. The court is being asked to determine whether the VAC[SC] is prohibited from entering into contracts to buy property unless it’s partnering with a municipality, whether the electors of the township should have voted on the purchase, and whether the township failed to appropriate funding to cover operational expenses in the new building.
I guess theoretically a positive finding on any of these counts could result in vacating the purchase, though the township seems to prefer just to find a way to make it legal if it currently isn’t. The township is not asking for money damages.
However, back when the deal was made, a Stephenson County blogger found even more to trouble residents about the joint purchase than what is found in the suit. Read the rest of this entry
Illinois’ Mercer County lies south of the Quad Cities and comprises part of its metro area.
Perhaps you’ve heard that the county’s treasurer, Mike Bertelsen, has been arrested and charged with stealing at least $13,000 from the county’s 911 Fund, the result of investigations that followed a forensic audit in the county office.
The Illinois Policy Institute has pointed out Mercer County transparency failures that IPI counts as red flags:
A lack of online transparency
A failure to file annual reports on a timely basis
Violations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Violations of the Open Meetings Act (OMA)
I’ve suggested before that failures to turn in Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) annual reports to the state might signal trouble, as tardiness correlated with financial corruption cases in Alorton and Dixon.
The violations of OMA and FOIA are either mostly or wholly related to Mercer County’s hideously dysfunctional and incomplete website. FYI: Dixon’s wasn’t much better at the time Rita Crundwell’s crimes were discovered. Read the rest of this entry